4 months ago
Angelica Cob-Baehler spent her life making dreams come true. What a beautiful and weighty résumé to take to heaven.
You see, the music business all begins with a dream. We have all had this dream.
In our dream, we are standing on stage holding an electric guitar, under a spray of colored lights, in front of a carpet of fans. Or maybe we are standing on stage by a microphone, silhouetted artfully, in a sweaty shoebox full of art and attitude, boys and girls dressed in the non-colors of Weimar hanging on to our every word. Or perhaps we are a troubadour of sincerity and melody, spouting poetry to the sibilant chime of an acoustic guitar, a generation of eager eyes and ears awaiting our next pronouncement, our next spit of truth.
For a very precious few — demons, faeries, and faux-roman gods in denim and diamonds, Cuban heels and cracked leather — these dreams have actually come true.
And if these dreams came true, it was very likely because of a great publicist.
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Six days ago, one of my biggest champions and realest friends, Angelica Cob-Baehler moved on from this place. She was one of the strongest women I have ever known – fighting her cancer like friggin’ Rocky, enduring chemo, immunotherapy, a tracheotomy, feeding tubes for months on end, and experimental cancer treatment trials. I watched her go through many stages for over a year, but a few things remained constant: her sarcastic/wicked sense of humor, her positive outlook, and the incredible love she had for her family. We had a lot of wins together for over 10 years, and I am incredibly grateful she was a born fighter/no shit-taker because she practically willed me into existence as a young artist when she “stole my files” from limbo at Columbia Records and brought them to life at Capitol Records. She was like a big sister to me, showing me the ropes and always having my back. She never became a yes-person and was quick to check me when I needed checking – that was family. I have procrastinated posting this because it makes it feel a little too final, but I don’t believe people ever really die – she just had to leave that body behind. Out of body, and full of spirit now. Sadly, she also left behind two amazing young girls, and an incredible husband who was the definition of ROCK through this whole process. As for me, I’ll never let them forget that Angelica embodied the angel in her name, was a woman of incredible integrity and character, a massive giver, and a DOPE human being. I know today is #GivingTuesday, and if you have been a longtime KatyCat and a friend of mine or Geli’s, let’s honor her by donating to her favorite charity, Generosity.org by clicking the link in bio. She may be gone from this place, but she will never be forgotten. Rest in power, my angel, and don’t worry, we got Chapman and the girls. #RIPGeli
There is not one single artist in our lives who was not a dreamer, whether their music was derivative or original, commercial or contrarian. In fact, I guarantee you this: Every artist you have ever listened to (intentionally or accidentally), from Adam Levine to Impaled Nazarene, Lightning Bolt to Bon Jovi, dreamed a dream of art and stardom.
In fact, there are dreamers on both sides of the equation.
There is the artists’ dream: We have wanted to be on stage since we could attach words to the frustration of anonymity. We have watched others bend under the weighty compromise of conformity, but we will not. We perform in front of the mirror, and want it to disappear and become a stadium crowd singing along to songs we have not yet written. We have lived, breathed and sweated music every hour of every day, during social studies class and during subway rides, during long walks home from work and short walks up the stairways to crap apartments. Perhaps most of all, we are trying to find that song, that sound, that we cannot find it anywhere — so we have to make it ourselves.
There is also the listener’s dream:
The listener dreams vicariously of glamor, glitter, the cling of spandex and the rainbow of manic panic, sex all night and dinner at dawn, all the things promised by the picture on the laptop, the hum on the car stereo. Or of finding that someone who says the words in my heart that I could not find in my own throat; the lines to write on notes you slip into the locker of that unrequited love. Or the listener believes, if I wave the flag of this star long enough and loud enough, I can find my tribe. The listener’s dream is the dream of identity, connection, expression, and escape.
Both sets of dreamers need help to find each other.
Until the MP3/Streaming era changed the equation entirely, virtually all dreamers required a corporate middleman to finance, manufacture, distribute, and promote their dreams.
These were record labels. There were good things and bad things about record labels, good people and bad people who worked for them — dream killers, dream makers, and all shades in-between.
I was an A&R person at Atlantic Records from 1992 to 1998. I believed, and still believe, I was a curator of dreams. It was my job to find artists, help them make an album that best realized their artistic and commercial aspirations, and then guide them through the major label release and promotion process — i.e. an inefficient, Escher-like Maze of other people’s priorities, fears, and ambitions.
I soon learned that the primary function of the major record labels was self-support: Job preservation and keeping the iron giant from collapsing on itself amid artistic and technological changes were the main concerns. The quality, or even the commercial potential, of music barely mattered. Priorities were determined and resources assigned based on how any given chess move impacted one’s ability to hold one’s job, advance in the corporate structure, and potentially damage someone who might stand in their way.
I found that in this insanely dysfunctional political environment, virtually no one was actively involved in what I had hoped and presumed would be the main function of a major record label: Making dreams come true.
However, there was one phenomenal and constant exception to this sad truth:
Literally without exception, the women and men working in the Publicity Department had only one daily agenda: making artists achieve their dreams, and helping listeners find the music that would lift their lives and fuel their fantasies.
I have been in the music industry for forty flipping years; during that time, I have worked at three major labels, been signed to a major label as an artist, worked for two gigantic video channels, worked for a tiny but powerful underground radio station, and written for more major publications and websites than I have fingers and toes.
Bizarrely, during that time I have not met one single publicist I didn’t like.
Each and every publicist I encountered truly loved music; each and every one of them wanted to make dreams come true, and made this the focus of their work, every day; and each and every one of them, at some point in their career, went out of their way to promote an act that no one else at the label was paying attention to (you cannot imagine how rare that is at a major label). At any and every label, no one was more deeply engaged in making the connection between the artists and their potential audience then the publicists. In other words, the publicists were the music industry, idealized.
The publicists I knew at Atlantic Records in the 1990s were all, literally, the best people at the label. If I did not let them know this when I was young asshole hotshot A&R guy, I am deeply, truly sorry. I really am.
Sadly, I am not going to name these great women and men because I would surely forget some of the names; and to forget even one single name would be a sin.
But I will name one publicist I knew at Atlantic in the 1990s: Angelica Cob-Baehler. Angelica passed about two weeks ago, after a brave battle with cancer.
Angelica was full of light and sass and wit, she had the ability to be simultaneously joyful and sarcastic, she was a joy to see around the office, and her fellow publicists and artists loved her dearly. She loved diverse, beautiful, peculiar and garish music, and she shared this love with the world like a superfan endowed with super powers.
Angelica was not “a” person who worked at Atlantic; she was the person who worked at Atlantic, because she did it for all the right reasons: because she loved music as the best dreamers do and she loved making dreams come true.
She was so loved by her artists and so good at what she did that she went on to become an executive outside of publicity. But when she did so, she held on to the same values: Shape culture with an expert mind but keep listening with the loving heart of a teen dreamer.
Angelica was the best of us, and she represents an entire army of women and men whose only goal is making dreams come true: The Publicists.
I dedicate this not only to Angela, and her loved ones, but also to some of the publicists who shaped my own life: Cary Baker, Bob Merlis, Bobbie Gale, Ellen Zoe Golden, Lori Somes, Tracy Zamot, Melanie Ciccone Henry, Michael Krumper, Ken Weinstein, and so many others.